Hesselius, I believe, was true to his oath and his prescription. He did not show my master what he asked to see. Hesselius’ own despair and proscription of going there was all the proof my master needed. The good doctor all but forbid us to go, but knowing my master well, resigned himself to our adventure. Before we left, he favored me with a brief interview as to my intentions, complimenting me on the service I had given Doctor Brown. We discussed Socrates and Plato. “The great students,” said Hesselius, “only follow so far. And none ever save their master from errors.” On departing, he was most kind and enormously generous to us, though, I thought, informed with some solemnity and misgivings.
Nothing marked the boundary to the keep and its surroundings except absences; absences of habitation and traffic and upkeep on an increasingly difficult and vanishing road. The Comte’s ruins were deposited upon a seat of natural hostility and treachery, vertiginous paths prone to simultaneous avalanche and flooding, ridden with fissures and caves that could not be mapped or exited, well supplied with poisonous subterranean muddy springs, natural foul chthonic miasmas and reservoirs of tar. My master expressed some anxiety when it was clear we would have to leave the majority of the collection secreted in such a chasm. It was clear to me, however, that no one came to bother this lonely place, and my master’s treasures would be secure enough. It perplexed me that he had not left his storehouse of knowledge securely with Hesselius, but over his creation my master could be jealous and peevish, to the point of insisting on taking some of his most prized possessions with him, even as we had yet to cross the ravine whose bridge Hesselius has annihilated.
Once we stood there, I felt no overwhelming dread in the great hall, despite its infamy. I knew the most awful things had happened elsewhere. Stripped, it was still regal and the eyes still leapt to the torn and chipped spaces where they pennants and heraldry should be. Those arms should never be seen again, on that there was universal agreement. Surprisingly, much had been left untouched, including such items as usually attract the pilfering soldier or municipal authority. Here and there, it seemed items had been collected for removal, but their collectors had somehow thought better of it. The treatment of the castle seemed to imply a strange deference and haste upon the soldiers that Muinswerke had sent Hesselius.
On a landing, I poked about a piece of cloth and found a water tin and a stick. Perhaps the castle had had at least one tenant since the Comte. I hastened to tell my master, but he had no interest in the structure above ground, but rather raced it its foundations.
There, in the darkness of the cellar, my master would have his moment of truth. As Hesselius had described, the casks were overturned and split. The cellar was ancient indeed. The air was foul and faintly redolent, but I was used to such strong odors from our work. We found the doors of the secret chapel, as described. My master rapped upon the doors. It was mute. My master rapped harder. The doors absorbed all. We pulled the doors apart. We faced a wall of sandy soil and rock. As Hesselius had directed, it had been filled in.
My master stared at it a while. I was afraid to speak. He called for a shovel. I gave it to him. He began to dig. As I could not let him dig alone, I too, dug. I could not persuade him by any means to let me do the digging alone.
For the first hour or so, I thought surely he would relent and realize his folly with every shovelful. Yet he persisted. For the next two hours I considered what to say to him. By the fifth hour, I hoped he would fall asleep, so I could stop digging. Yet he never stopped or paused from digging , and so we persisted, incessantly, interminably. The air was quite stale and I grew dizzy, my limbs numb with exertion. I felt as though I were falling asleep, dreaming, the shovels cutting and dumping with the regularity of weary breath, a tiresome aching dream of attacking an endless black wall.
Finally, I know not how much later, the shovel nearly flew out of my blistered hands –into a void. My shovel had struck black, empty air, from which emerged a breath of strong foulness.
Hesselius’ instructions had been incompletely followed. Perhaps even Hesselius himself did not wish the way forever blocked. My master did not wait for the passage to be fully cleared but squeezed himself through.
I followed as soon as could.. Groping along the ground, my hands slid on fine cloths and knocked against shoes. We stood in the unholy antechamber, where the initiates disrobed before proceeding past the threshold to greater obscenity. The entrance to that lay before us.
The temple was as monstrous as Hesselius had been silent. I was glad our feeble torches could not show more of what remained in that place. I did my best to keep my light off the thing in the center of that star shaped chamber. I turned instead to face the walls. The weak sun of my beam fell upon a horrific creation: the acute walls of that awful place were decorated with murals of a perverse and blasphemous cosmology. The dark and grotesque figures were hard to discern as to their evil meaning. An ancient colossus, himself made of muck, it seemed to me, voided himself, producing the gods, who he then ingested, only to void them out again, who in turn slew and devoured the titan and evacuated him. The gods then proceeded to endlessly slay and devour each other, their eventual externalizations of their cannibalisms depicted in great detail. The products of their digestion in turn became infants composed of filth, who in turn, struggled and fought and devoured and excreted. In one corner, one such child, afflicted with idiocy, plays with his wastes, rolling out the arms and legs and of some infinitely inferior creation of degenerate discharge. The identity of this first golem of excreta I inferred was Adam.
Worst of all, however, the crapulent race of men, their idiot creator, the gods and the titans all knelt and bowed and scraped before the rising of a black sun, a dark asterisk, whose radial arms were brown streaks, whose visage was a faceless gaping concavity from which endless filthy issue poured forth: and this disjecta was the universe.
My master was uninterested in such details. He was looking for the restroom. At length he found it.
The latrine was the true secret temple of the Comte’s baphomet. This odious chamber was the size of a banquet hall and used in the Comte’s scatological orgies. Around its circumference were ringed toilets. Each seat was ringed with the pattern of a constellation set in precious gems. The Comte’s blasphemous company would seat themselves on these commodes, decorated as the seat of heaven and together fancy themselves so relieving their abdomens upon the upturned and innocent eyes of God’s creation, depicted in the sunken center of the room.
It was to these ancient seats Dr. Brown directed his attention, poking his head in this hole and that hallooing. He bade me also to do so. Though surely unused since the eviction of its bad tenant, the gaping mouth of the seat seemed newly rancid. With some reluctance, I placed my head through that orifice and felt the yoke of the seat around my neck. With some surprise I heard my master’s voice and saw his light before me, his head also inverted through another seat. He told me to get the picks and axes. I righted myself and did as he asked. He then began to tear at the seats with the picks and axes, and then thrust himself and his light into the opening he had made. Excited, he stood and bade me take his place.
The jeweled seats voided upon a still more ancient chamber: an ancient crypt or catacomb. It seems it had been the Comte’s blasphemous delectation to defecate upon his very ancestors with his guests. The obscene evacuation hall we were in formed the ceiling of the old crypt, into which we now lowered a line, hoping to descend upon the pinnacle of the fantastically enormous pile of coprolite and desiccated manure that bluntly peaked beneath us.
It was a tricky descent, as the accumulated waste formed a soft and immaterial layer on top, which was prone to break off in great clouds of dust. We both skidded and fell on our descent many times, soon totally covered with the powder of broken coprolite. Though the great mass of waste appeared dead and dry ejecta, paradoxically, the rank and evil smell of inhuman evacuations grew stronger and stronger the more we descended. As we made our unsteady way down this mountain of ancient filth, it became clear that it was not merely the refuse of the Comte’s orgiastic guests, but the refuse of ages that was accumulated here. The crypts themselves had been built upon the remains of some still more ancient midden.
Even in such a mass of sedimented impurity there were things still more awful. The Comte’s crimes were limitless and every vile thing he and his ilk had done had found its final issue here. The filth of an evil creature is unimaginably even viler and in that mass of crapulence there was evidence of crimes more terrible than even the Comte had been condemned for. It would do the world no good at all and not a little evil to detail them; I will suffice with a single detail, with some salience: before we had reached the base of the midden, we found some human remains. These were by no means the only human remainders (and things we hoped were human) we had encountered on our descent, but this body was notable for it condition: the legs has been severed at the knee, the left arm at the elbow; all the fingers of the right hand had been removed, save the ring finger. The seal on that remaining finger made manifest the corpse’s identity. It was the Comte’s father. By the location of the body and its condition, it was obvious that he had lived for some time after being cast down into this fetid pit, the conditions of his survival best not imagined.
Once we stood at its base, we exulted, as though we as reached the summit of the Mount Olympus itself. I felt giddy and lightheaded, as though so deprived of atmosphere. This unreal mass of crime and excrement transfixed my master. He walked around and around the base of the midden. This was the treasure beyond treasure. He did not even think to stop and scoop the specimens for which he had come. As he walked the base of the mass, over and over, seemingly dizzy as a drunkard, I began to wonder if he did not consider somehow collecting the whole thing.
His reveries were distracted by something wholly anomalous in that anomalous place. Something flew by my master’s face, illuminated by the beam of his torch. I, too, started. It was white. Our searching lights finally managed to intersect it again. It was white. It was no living creature, but some sort of cloth, paper or tissue caught in a draught. We became aware, at once, of a slight and capricious breeze that drove the scrap this way and that, like a willful thing, or puckish spirit. My master stumbled about trying to follow it, even running after it. I thought us quite mad until I realized that it was being animated by a steady current of air.
But the air was not fresh, far from it. It carried with it an increased tang of corruption.
The scrap flickered in and out of view. It seemed that the catacombs opened onto or had been built into some still older system of a natural caves and fissures whose origin lay in prehistory. We followed after the scrap, quite recklessly, I realized, as we had left no marker or means to find our way back. We turned this way and that in some unknown system. The scrap would vanish from view and we would fruitlessly struggle to find it again, only for it to whisk right by us.
Many times during this strange chase I moved to consult with my master. I even placed my hand on his shoulder, only to have him pull away, chasing the scrap.
As we proceeded deeper and deeper into these caves, the breeze and the caprice of our scrap did indeed grow stronger, as did the diseased feculent smell of ordure, stronger and stronger, until I expressed my concern that we must be heading into pocket of pure methane. Still my master persisted. I could not let him wander alone in such peril. I followed. God help me, I did follow.
I do not know how much farther we were able to track the scrap. The smell became overwhelming and unmistakable. It was difficult to breathe and one’s eyes burned. My throat and nose were raw: I should have supposed we had wandered into the sewer of some enormous city of lepers with diarrhea. Every breath inhaled filth. The air around us grew distinctly warm.
Our torches were nearly gone. Soon, we would be groping in the dark, the warm rancid darkness. Finally, my master fell to his knees. I fell too, exhausted. My master snapped off his light and sat in the dark. I did the same. My mind boggled at our misadventure and our certain doom and the man I had given my life for, to share in his great understanding. My feelings were extremely conflicted, when, to my horror, I heard my master rise and begin to run in the dark. Without thinking I chased after him. As I stumbled and called after him, I began to notice a faint visible glow within the tunnel we were in. It was this glow he pursued, this glow and, as I became increasingly aware, a vast sound, the sound of something moving; something like the sea.
The glow grew more and more distinct. It must be moonlight, I thought. We were saved! My master reached a glowing opening and vanished. When I caught up with him, we stood on the shore of a vast dark body of water. My relief was overwhelming, so overwhelming it took me several minutes to take in the strangeness of the view. We were on the shore of an enormous river, or lake, whose current was swift and terrible. The air was unimaginably foul and choking. Everything was illuminated by a faint glow, but looking heavenward, I saw no orb. I calculated the time we had spent in our explorations. It should have been daytime by now.
My master told me to send up a flare. Considering the atmosphere, I considered the risk of immolation, but I, too, had to know what shore it was we had come to.
The flare reached its zenith and disclosed an incomprehensible spectacle. The sky was hung with stalactites. What we thought was a river or lake appeared now as a vast ocean, stretching to the horizon. Yet more incomprehensible and impossible was what this ocean appeared to be. It was dark. It was liquid. Its stench gave no alternative as to its composition.
Yet, surely it was impossible! All the sewers of human civilization routed into one septic flow could not produce such a volume as this ocean! Every poop from every creature that had ever lived in Natural History could not account for such a mass. We were faced with an impossible cosmological revelation: the Earth was hollow and filled with a vast mass of odorous sewage, its waves rushing headlong to some still unknown abyss.
The arc of the flare gave us this impossible spectacle only a few seconds to consider, then came the darkness again into which to disbelieve.
In the faintness of whatever glow hung about the cavern I could not make out my master’s expression. I felt he had none. We walked like ghosts along the shore of this impossible and obscene sea, damned like wraiths in a Sheol that was more foul than anyone had ever imagined.
We walked I know not how long when my master stopped and snapped on his torch. In the distance, some hulk sat on the shore. The doctor snapped his light off and hastened toward it, pausing every few paces to illumine again. As we got closer to it, its unlikely design became more and more certain, despite its improbability. It was a boat.
When my master stepped into it, I thought I knew already his nightmarish intention. Nothing but our certain destruction could be gained by such travel. We stood on the shore of something unclean beyond imagining. How could we go further? This I plead silently with my slow reluctance to join him. He replied with his obstinate silent occupation of the prow, looking out. I acquiesced. I stepped into the boat. I pushed off. My master turned abruptly to regard me, but I dared not look at him.
I did not row, but sat there regarding my soiled trousers. We drifted, carried by the current. I looked up at a sky that was cold, hard and incalculably cruel, sealing me down here to sail on an endless sea of shit. Something deep within me rebelled. I would row back. I would somehow see the surface again. I would survive. I would report our findings. I snapped on my light. For an instant, I saw my master’s face, but so transfixed, I could but hardly recognize it. His face was wrenched with terror. It was pitiable. He looked to me, as though pleading. Was this final journey not his intention, his goal?
Suddenly, there was a knock on the underside of the boat. I was alarmed as to what we could have possibly struck. But the knock came again, and clear in its pattern. As clear as a nightmare. Something was rapping on the underside of the boat.
At this Dr. Brown stared. He looked at me. I was dumbfounded. At the third knock, he kneeled and knocked in response.
The answer came in the from of single forceful blow that stove the boat. Dr. Brown fell back. The boat began to fill rapidly with dark liquid filth. I scrambled to avoid the flooding muck. Dr. Brown stood up. I regarded him one last time. I spoke, but Dr. Brown, turned and jumped off the boat, into the dark awful mass.
I rowed. I knew not how far we were, but I rowed will all my might against the filling boat. The liquid sludge rolled toward me, lapping up my waist, my torso, my chin. I was futile, the boat began to slip under. I began to swim, straining with every stroke to keep my head above the excremental waves. I struggled to swim in this fetid nightmare. I knew not which direction. Waves of foulness slapped into my face, my eyes and mouth like an obscene insult, a rebuke of my will to live. Still I swam in this muck, swam and swam, my arms growing more and more heavy, my head dropping again and again into that vast and terrible toilet, until my arms no longer answered, my legs ceased to kick and I sank.
They say they found me when they were searching the sewers for another one of the victims of the killer known as the Stile. When they found me my flesh reeked so badly they were sure I was a corpse. The doctors evacuated the wing I was hospitalized in because of the outbreaks of disease around me.
The doctors say I am incurable, which is to say they cannot stand to be near me. Even the other lepers on this island shun me and flee from my stench. They have placed me on a tiny atoll where no wind stirs.
I try and live by my master's words, but my body disgusts me. I cannot help but think that the best part of me, the pure and holy part, my soul, was somehow squeezed out of me on that ocean of indescribable filth.
I have reported the details of our misadventure here and elsewhere in complete and truthful detail. Every authority insists that Hesselius’ orders were followed to the letter: the crypts were dynamited and the chapel filled with rock and sand and sealed. They suggest our vision at most represents some phantasmal re-imagining of an ill-considered descent into a gaseous fissure filled with tar or mud springs, our perceptions disordered by hypoxia into a fantasy land organized around our scatological obsessions. My condition they attribute to some unknown and aggravated eczema from the sewers. I am beyond disappointment: from such an obscene and impossible revelation there is nothing to report and nothing can be concluded.
And what we saw, what we experience, what I have written is as real as my rotting flesh, the worms of my own breath.
I put my head to the seemingly solid ground: and yet it moves.